Definition of BUCKET LIST: a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying
Origin of BUCKET LIST: from the phrase kick the bucket (to die)
First known use: 2006
There are few things on my bucket list. I should pay more attention to this, as the speed at which my life is flashing by doesn’t seem to be slowing down. There is one item that has been there for a while. I dream of doing church differently. This is not really a new item. In one form or another it has been a concern of mine since the ’80s. It hasn’t gone away. I am continually haunted by the fact that the early church didn’t have any church buildings till the time of Constantine. They met in the homes of members. And they met over meals. Tim Chester reminds us:
Meals were central to the life of the apostolic churches: “Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). The only local church gathering the book of Acts describes concerns the church of Troas. We read that they “were gathered together to break bread” (Acts 20:7; see also v. 11). They met for a meal.
In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul has to correct the excesses of Corinthian church gatherings, because the rich aren’t waiting for the poor or providing for them. The Corinthian believers met around a meal, but in a dysfunctional manner that didn’t reflect the gospel. Paul’s answer, however, is not to abolish the meal, but to realign it to the cross.
The first churches met in homes. Most houses could accommodate thirty to forty people at gatherings . . .
The meetings of the apostolic churches were shared meals. It’s not that they sometimes had a church lunch, or that they had some food before or after their meetings. Their meetings were meals. (Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011], 50–51))
Today the main meeting for most churches is Sunday morning worship, where those who attend sit in rows facing the front. I know what I am hoping to do is neither new nor novel but what would happen if we returned to sharing a meal as the main meeting of the church? Here’s what a meeting might look like. Imagine about twenty people meeting in a home.
1. The meal begins with a prayer of thanksgiving for the food and for the evening, a reminder that we gather in Jesus’ Name and in His presence. We also remember Christ’s body broken for us as we break bread and distribute it. The meal may have other staples, like rice, which is also distributed at this time.
2. As the people tuck in, conversations take place and the people begin to catch up with each other’s stories. A little bit of structure may help and folks could be encouraged to share one blessing and one difficulty in their lives. As the conversations continue, people find opportunities to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15).
3. At the end of the meal, we raise our cups and remember Jesus’s blood, shed for us. Wine and/or grape juice can be used for this toast of remembrance.
4. Then someone takes out a guitar and/or someone goes to the piano/keyboard, and someone leads us to sing songs to the Lord. These are carefully chosen songs that are easy to sing, theologically sound, yet allow people to express their deepest feelings about God. The singing also reminds us that Christ is among us in His Spirit. Incorporated into this time could be a time of prayer, using the Lord’s model prayer in Matthew as a template (Matthew 6:9–13). This may include moments of silent prayer and/or prayers led by someone designated to pray on behalf of the people.
5. At this time someone shares with us a sermon based on the Bible. People are allowed to ask questions if they need clarification as to what they are hearing. At the end of the sermon, people are asked how they would apply the sermon to their lives. We could close this segment with a prayer to help us to be doers of the Word and not just hearers.
6. The meeting then moves on to ministry concerns. Guided by the leaders, the group seeks the Lord as to what ministries the group should be carrying out. Decisions can be made about who will do what based on giftings and passions. Again, we pray asking the Lord for His resources to empower and enable us to do His work.
7. A collection may be taken up at this time for ministry projects and other expenses of the community.
8. The gathering proper ends at this point and those who need to go home can do so. Those who need prayer or some personal time with the leaders stay behind.
9. Communal life also means everyone chips in to both prepare the meal and to clean up afterwards.
You may say that what I have just described looks a lot like a cell group meeting. Indeed I would be happy if our church small groups were done in this way. But the early house churches were independent. Each house church was not an individual cell of a larger whole. The forty or so people were a church. That does not mean that they didn’t meet up with other house churches to have a larger gathering from time to time.
A number of meal-based churches could gather from time to time for large group celebrations. But the large-group/small-group dynamics would be the reverse of what most of us do now. For many of us, the Sunday large group gathering is the main meeting of the church and the small-group meeting supports the large-group meeting. People are strongly encouraged to join the small groups but it is understood that the Sunday large-group meeting is the main gathering of the church. In a meal-based church, the gathering over a meal is the main meeting, and the occasional large-group meeting helps support the meal-based meetings.
Will I ever get to cross this item off my bucket list? God knows. We will only do this if He clearly directs us. And our lives have been so full. We hardly have enough energy to be faithful to our present duties much less to embark on a major undertaking like this. Obviously there are many questions that need to be addressed if we want to do church this way. It will be a long road. And my road is getting shorter by the day. But if it is of the Lord, He will let us know. In the meantime, I know of groups in Singapore and Malaysia who are trying to do this. I can encourage and support them. Perhaps I am called to provide biblical support to folks trying to do this rather than do it myself. We’ll see. But if we ever embark on this, I already have a name for these gatherings: Dinners with Jesus.